Why would someone we love do that to themselves? What was going on in their mind that this was their only way out? Did I miss something in their behavior that could have warned me of this possibility? I feel lost and confused, and maybe even guilty. I cannot accept that a person I thought I knew would do this. These are the common questions and effects of suicide grief.
The questions and confusing thoughts keep coming because, like everything else in life, we want desperately to understand Why? Why? Why? Why? We are in shock. We are dumbstruck. We are broken by the news. Someone we know and love has killed him or herself. Our child has killed him or herself. Our son, our daughter, our friend, our parent, our partner, our lover, our brother, our sister, our cousin, our high school buddy, our girlfriend, our boyfriend has taken their own life.
During my therapy career I lost 2 clients to suicide. The first one was a young man in his mid twenties. He had just broken up with his wife of 1 year and he was very depressed. His parents ran a car dealership in a nearby small community and everyone in this town seemed to know each other. He had married his high school sweetheart. They seemed destined for success. Problems arose in their relationship and they separated. By the time I saw him he was quite low.
Sadly, I only got to see him on 3 occasions before the news came. A police officer phoned my office early one morning and asked if I knew this person. When I said yes, the officer reported that the young man had committed suicide in his parent's garage via carbon monoxide poisoning.
I never did see his parents. My office condolences and I left it open as to whether they would want to contact me or not. They never replied. Although not attached personally, I sought the help of my advisor on how I should deal with this. A therapist's first reaction is "How have I failed?" A lot of processing, with help, has to happen before we come to terms with such an event. Even though it's not our loved one, the loss still remains poignant. This is also the time I was made aware that a support group for therapists, who had lost clients to suicide, even existed.
The second suicide of a client was much worse. This gentleman had been with me for 3 years dealing with a variety of issues including suicidal ideation. He had attempted more than once already. During our time together I came to know him quite well. He always kept an emotional distance from me most of the time we worked together. Occasionally he'd let his inner self come out, but that was rare. He had been sexually molested as a child and that was at the root of his depression and suicidal ideation. He would see me regularly for several months and then disappear, sometimes up to a year.
When he returned to therapy we would pick up where we left off. Rarely did he ever let his guard down. After a third or fourth absence of several months the word came that he had killed himself. I was stunned. I had hoped that we were making sufficient progress to keep that option at bay. This one felt like a failure to me at first. But after working it through with my advisor I had to conclude that his will to die was stronger than my will to have him recover and enjoy his life. There were serious character flaws at work here including a histrionic diagnostic classification that held suicide as a common occurrence.
Regardless of those details I felt this loss and I had to work it through. Despite my knowledge, training and experience I still had to deal with my emotions just like his family did. A former girlfriend of his came to see me and we discussed her reactions in detail. To the question of Why? I had to accept that the dynamics of his personality and his determination to stay guarded were at the root of his problem. He saw suicide as a better option than being vulnerable with me or in any of his intimate relationships.
To the question of Why? there often isn't a satisfactory answer. This adds to the complicated nature of suicide grief Grief support groups for family members of suicide can offer some insight and the chance for eventual acceptance. In the end we have to accept that we never knew that person as much as we believed. They withheld secrets from us and from everyone else. And their commitment to escape life was stronger than our love for them. Each of us has that choice "To Be or Not To Be". Most of us choose life.
The grief you are experiencing now is tougher than the normal variety because of that question. To think you had something to do with it is absurd. You never had that level of power over them even if they were your child. There are character flaws, genetic dispositions, propensity to depression and numerous other reasons that lead a person to suicide. None of them have anything to do with you. If a therapist cannot stop them, what do you think you can do? You will have to accept that this was their choice, and it was precipitated by their refusal to be open to others.
Why do people commit suicide? Here are some reasons from a therapist's point of view. They are mad at someone and have chosen to punish them for some misbehavior. A close friend of mine's wife chose this path. They are feeling desperate and isolated and they've amplified those feelings with alcohol or drugs, leading to a deeper depression and the willingness to act. They feel their inner pain is unbearable and no one can help them. They refuse to be helped. The list goes on and includes more probabilities than you could ever imagine. What chance do you have to prevent a suicide? Very little, unless you are actually there to stop them, or they have finally reached out to you in desperation.
You're going to be feeling a lot of different emotions as a result of this event. You will feel angry at the victim. You may feel guilty for feeling angry at the victim. You will certainly be feeling shocked and confused. After these initial reactions will come the grief and that's where you get to help yourself.
What do you need to do for yourself? Join a support group. See a therapist. Acquire a good book or audio resource to help you deal with your feelings and emotions. You will never have a satisfactory answer to Why? But you can heal your own grief. Don't try and tough this one out, you'll only become more depressed as a result. Do not repeat the mistake that drove your loved one to suicide. Give yourself every opportunity to heal and gain acceptance over an event you had no control of.